Champaign native turns gaming skills into lucrative YouTube career
CHAMPAIGN — Playing video games has paid off handsomely for 21-year-old Trevor Martin of Champaign.
Martin parlayed his expertise from playing "Call of Duty" games into a career as a video game commentator on YouTube.
In the process, he's built a following of nearly 2 million YouTube subscribers and taken in streams of revenue from corporate advertisers.
Revenue from his business varies month to month — from as little as $10,000 to as much as $70,000, he said. Total revenue for 2013 is expected to be in the $300,000 range, he said.
Martin, who graduated from Centennial High School in 2011, said he produces five videos for YouTube each day, with each video running five to 20 minutes.
Most of the videos impart "tips, tricks and strategies to help people get better" at playing the "Call of Duty" games, he said. But in some videos, he discusses current events, new games coming out and what's going on in his life.
Martin credits his success to passion and timing. He said he was lucky in terms of hitting the video game commentary niche at just the right time.
"This wasn't around three years ago," he said. "It could be gone tomorrow."
Video game commentary has been a hot commodity on YouTube, with probably the best known commentator being PewDiePie, a Swedish game player whose popularity soared in 2013.
Martin began doing video game commentary as a hobby when he was a sophomore at Centennial, at the suggestion of a friend. By late 2010, he had developed enough of a following that he was able to quit his job as a busboy at Le Peep.
After graduating from Centennial, he enrolled in Parkland College in the fall of 2011. But when Activision, the publisher of "Call of Duty," offered him a chance to work on a series of videos on their platforms, he jumped at the chance, dropped out of college and moved to Los Angeles.
Martin stayed a little over a year but didn't know many people there. He moved back to Champaign temporarily, then bought a house in Coralville, Iowa, near the University of Iowa, where his girlfriend, Haley Hollern, is in school.
Martin said he records his videos at his home in Iowa, at his mother's condo in Champaign and at his newly acquired office space in the M2 on Neil building in downtown Champaign.
Most of his videos feature footage from the "Call of Duty" games, as he gives advice on how to navigate situations, commenting, for example, on the magazine size and reload speed of weapons used in the shooter games.
He also advises players on familiarizing themselves with available entrances and exits in their virtual environment.
Martin said he doesn't change his persona or voice for the videos, "but I try to stay upbeat, excited."
Activision regularly releases new games in the "Call of Duty" series, usually every November — most recently, "Call of Duty: Ghosts."
Commentary from November to February is easy, as he goes over details of the latest release. But other parts of the year, "it's more difficult and I have to get creative," he said.
Martin also has a presence on Twitter and Facebook, with about 290,000 Twitter followers and 73,000 "likes" on Facebook. He said he gets his most valuable feedback from Twitter.
Martin credits his mother, Christie Martin, the chief financial officer at Next Generation School and a former banker, as being "very supportive."
He said she allowed him to play video games as a child as long as he had his homework done. As a teen, he played competitively and traveled to gatherings in Chicago and Indianapolis to learn more about the games.
When he was 15, she even allowed him to go to Boston to attend the Penny Arcade Expo video game convention, better know as "PAX East."
"I'm just amazed at what he's been able to accomplish," Christie Martin said. "When he was a younger person playing video games, I wondered, 'Where is this going to go?' Now you look at where it's gone."
She said "Call of Duty" had some violence in it, "but he seemed well-adjusted so I let it go."
Christie Martin said her son was a straight-"A" student who was good at conversing with others.
"He always found some niche to be an entrepreneur," she said, noting that Trevor once had a snow-shoveling business and later a venture reselling items on eBay.
Besides being CEO of TmarTn Enterprises, Martin has been a brand ambassador for several companies serving the gaming community. He said he's currently a brand manager for Astro Gaming, which makes gaming headsets. His work for that company includes helping to promote product giveaways.
He has also worked with companies selling energy drinks and operating tournament websites.
Martin said Coca-Cola is the first worldwide brand outside of gaming to arrange for product placement in his videos. He has also promoted Mountain Dew giveaways as well as the drink's presence on social media.
Martin, who is interested in a career in finance, said he has begun investing in real estate, figuring the video game commentary gig won't last forever.
He said he has purchased three single-family homes in the Champaign-Urbana area and is working on an apartment deal now.
Jason Rector, a Champaign firefighter and real-estate investor who has served as a mentor for Martin, described Martin as "very, very humble."
"He's not one to brag ... he doesn't say how successful he is at it," Rector said. "He's very intelligent and a brilliant businessman, building multiple streams of income.
"The sky's the limit for him."
The Trevor Martin File
— Born Sept. 4, 1992.
— Played basketball at Jefferson Middle School and freshman year at Centennial High.
— Has two YouTube video channels: TmarTn and TmarTn2.
— Co-author of "Call of Duty: Ghosts" Signature Series Strategy Guide.
— Twitter: @TmarTn.
— Facebook: www.facebook.com/TmarTn.
— Interests include "sports, dates and hanging out with family."
— Besides "Call of Duty" games, he also enjoys the "Grand Theft Auto" and "Battlefield" video-game series.